The path to effective information

When businesses reach the stage where managing data growth is critical, finding the way forward can be fraught. Jane Dudman looks...

When businesses reach the stage where managing data growth is critical, finding the way forward can be fraught. Jane Dudman looks at how two firms went about upgrading their storage systems

Choosing and implementing a storage system can be a fraught process, with many different options on the market. We look at two users, one of which has found a range of ways in which its e-mail storage system has helped the company, while the other has opted to avoid a move to a storage area network (San) in favour of a straightforward, Ethernet-based connection into a central storage system.

Case study one: Somerfield

Since September 2002, supermarket group Somerfield has been using the Enterprise Vault e-mail management and archiving system from UK firm KVS, now owned by Veritas, which has in turn recently been acquired by Symantec.

Having an efficient storage system for its e-mail was vital for Somerfield; even more important was being able to retrieve e-mails quickly. The group has more than 56,000 staff and a turnover of £4.6bn a year. Almost all its commercial agreements with suppliers are agreed electronically, so it is crucial for the company to maintain accurate records of all e-mail communications.

The volume of e-mail at Somerfield was putting pressure on the company's storage systems. "This was a critical business problem we needed to address," says Colin Clark, corporate cost audit manager at Somerfield. The system now holds 9.5 million e-mails, amounting to some 470Gbytes of storage.

Somerfield began looking for a storage system in late 2001. "I looked at the market and there was KVS and one other product," says Clark. "We felt the other company wanted to sell us its products, whereas KVS was trying to offer us a solution. At that time, the functionality of the KVS system far exceeded our needs, but they persuaded us of the benefits and we preferred them as a company."

Following a pilot in March 2002, the system went fully live six months later at a cost of about £100,000. Enterprise Vault captures all the e-mails going in and coming out of Somerfield and stores them on a central server. It leaves a small stub in the Exchange e-mail system, reducing e-mail storage requirements and providing a fully searchable centralised store of information. The system is segmented in 14 separate archives, any or all of which can be searched.

"There has been zero footprint on the users," says Clark. "There has been no interruption to their work and if we need to take down the system, it caches the e-mails until it can store them again."

The main reason for buying the system was to ensure that all company e-mails, many of which contain important commercial information about contracts and trading, would be safely stored and, just as vital, could be retrieved in the case of any dispute, regulatory requirement or audit. This aspect of the system has worked exactly as planned, according to Clark. "The big benefit to us is the corporate governance aspect," he says. "We have a full record of all our communications."

As the system has settled in, a number of other uses have emerged, including the ability to help suppliers and staff in perhaps surprising ways.

"One of our suppliers had a laptop stolen that had all their communications with Somerfield - about 2,000 e-mails," says Clark. "I was able to put in that supplier's name, pull up all those e-mails from our system, burn the information to CD and get it to them. It took me about 15 minutes."

In another instance, a member of staff was buying a house in Spain and had to get important documents over, but her e-mail failed to get through because it was too big. "She was in Bristol; the documents were in Scotland," says Clark. "I retrieved her original e-mail, split it into smaller parts and got it over so the sale went through. It took a couple of minutes."

Another benefit has been the ability to track down viruses. "We had a classic case where six people had a virus spoof that came though our firewall. It was stopped by our desktop anti-virus system, but we wanted to know why it had got through," says Clark. "It transpired the six e-mails had elements of an old virus the desktop system had spotted. So we were able to confirm our firewall anti-virus system was working."

These have been additional benefits, but the main plus for the system has been its ability to save Somerfield money. "It cost £100,000 for the initial purchase and it paid for itself within three months," says Clark. "I estimate that the system has helped us to pull in more than £1m, which would have been a lot harder without it." The company has found it a lot easier, for instance, to ensure it is getting all the promotional funding due from manufacturers.

But the system has also raised issues about the legal position of e-mail storage. For regulatory purposes, Clark and his team have to be able to prove the system is storing all e-mails as they were originally sent or received, but under data protection and other regulations he also has to consider his position in terms of storing personal data.

"I have to juggle the data protection and human rights legislation against my right to retain e-mails unsullied," he says. The answer, believes Clark, may lie in some form of content management system that categorises e-mails and sets retention policies, which he is discussing with KVS.

Clark is enthusiastic about his e-mail storage system. He has also weathered the takeover of his supplier by Veritas and the subsequent acquisition by Symantec. "I have noticed no change in the way KVS works, which is good, because we bought into KVS. I think the takeover will bring funding to enable KVS to develop further."

Case study two: Brevan Howard

Brevan Howard Asset Management is an investment manager. Founded in 2002, it has grown quickly and now has more than 130 employees based at its offices in the heart of London, managing funds worth more than £6bn.

This rapid growth means the firm needed a high-performance, scalable storage system for its mission-critical trade entry system. It was looking for a system that would be easy to manage and would also provide disaster recovery capabilities for the firm's main IT platforms, including both Sybase and MS SQL Server environments.

Paul Bryant, head of technology at Brevan Howard, wanted to keep down capital and maintenance costs. In weighing up the storage options, Bryant decided to steer clear of a complex storage area network infrastructure. His main consideration was to find a system that would connect numerous hosts into a central storage facility, and provide the ability to replicate data over the firm's existing IP networks. Performance and cost-effectiveness were also key criteria in the hunt for the new system.

As there were no San switches already in place at Brevan Howard, nor any San skills in-house, moving to a San infrastructure would have been expensive in capital costs and training and would have delayed the company's migration to a new storage platform.

Bryant and his team evaluated offerings from several storage suppliers, including Hitachi Data Systems and EMC, before opting for the Inserv S400 system from US storage company 3Par. In tests before the deal was agreed, the 3Par server met or exceeded demanding performance requirements and it also offered the single-system scalability which Brevan Howard was looking for. The deal was the first major sale for 3Par into the UK financial sector and, as a result, the pricing was "aggressive", says Bryant.

The Inserv storage servers from 3Par are based on the concept of utility storage, where a central facility provides easily accessible and manageable storage, automating many management functions to reduce costs, but also allowing for future growth. The aim is to improve availability so users do not outgrow the system too quickly, and to provide tailored application capabilities with measurable service levels.

The 3Par system also met Brevan Howard's other criteria. Bryant says the firm felt 3Par was the right choice because the system enables it to deliver high levels of service, and in some cases greater levels of service than previously, but with reduced time, expertise and cost. In addition, Bryant and his team estimates that upgrade costs with 3Par will be "significantly lower" per terabyte than with comparable monolithic array environments. "That was very compelling. And given ever-present space constraints, the degree to which we could scale within a single cabinet was also an advantage. But the key business benefits for us are the performance and the simplicity of administration."

Brevan Howard began work on implementing the system in autumn 2004 and is due to go live in March this year. It is directly connecting 12 of its applications and databases to the 3Par Inserv storage server. "We will have 12 direct connections initially, but we have plans for many more," says Bryant. "We are able to dual-connect up to 14 or 16 servers per site."

The servers are connected to the storage system via two controllers, which provides resilience, and the storage is replicated across two datacentres, one in the company's main London office and a second in another London location, which is used not just as a back-up site, but also to run live processes. ThStorage e link between the two datacentres runs on Gigabit Ethernet.

For disaster recovery, data is replicated across both sites simultaneously, using 3Par's Remote Copy software, which moves blocks of data between storage systems at each datacentre to keep them synchronised, and runs over Brevan Howard's IP Wan infrastructure, avoiding the need to implement Fibre Channel links and associated San switches.

Once the initial system is safely up and running to support the trade entry system, there are plans to extend the storage facility for the whole of the firm's enterprise systems. "It has all worked exactly as it said," says Bryant. "The only thing is that we have used more disc space than expected, but that is not to do with the choice of box. It is more because the facility has impressed us and we have used it for a broader range of uses than we initially expected."

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